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Identity Theft: How to Protect Your Business

By Michelle Collins |

Imagine that you've been running a successful business for a few years now and you would like to take out a loan so that you can expand your office. However, when you apply for the loan you are rejected because your credit report has shown a recent history of unpaid balances. Shocked, you are now not only out of a loan but you now have to deal with these charges on a card that you didn't even apply for. You could be the victim of identity theft.

The idea of impersonating someone else is hardly a new concept, what makes this crime different today is that new technology allows criminals to steal and manipulate as many identities as they can get their hands on easily.

Just what is identity theft?
In simple terms identity theft is the theft of any personal information such as names, addresses, SIN and credit card numbers. But it can be more complex than this, especially for a business owner. The information being stolen can range from your personal or business matters to your clients.

It can happen in pretty much any way that you can think about, explains Caroline Hubberftey, Director, Provincial and Community Affairs with the Canadian Bankers Association.

“It all goes back to what is the information used for. So this could include the dealer who throws out the driver's license without shredding it all the way to a computer where the information is stored electronically and it may be hacked into. [Another scenario] is internal attempted fraud, where the person has downloaded business information for fraudulent purposes.”

Currently, there is no legal working definition of identity theft in Canada.

“Nobody can get charged with identity theft, per sae,” explains Lou Morrissette, NCO in charge of major frauds and identity thefts, RCMP. “Identity theft is more or less the vehicle. Information is stolen by a criminal and it's their subsequent application is what the offense would be.”

In other words if somebody took your information and used it to apply for a credit card or loan in your name they would be charged with fraud rather than identity theft.

Protecting yourself and your business
“We usually tell people to protect themselves as best they can. If somebody is out to take your identification, per sae, it's an aggressive act and it's very hard to defend yourself, it really is. Depending on how they apply that information may or may not be problematic to you,” says Morrissette.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your business from falling victim to this crime?

The answer can be as simple as not giving out your personal information to people you don't know. However, there are some things that you should be doing to be more vigilant to protect yourself and your business.

  1. Pay close attention to when your mail arrives. Are bank statements and other bills arriving on time? Keep records of when these items last arrived. If mail is showing up very late or not at all contact Canada Post and make an inquiry.

  2. If you're running an Internet business Hubberftey advises putting up adequate firewalls to protect yourself from being hacked. This will protect not only your business information but client databases as well.

  3. If you have access to a shredder, use it. Any mail that includes information about yourself, your business, or your clients should be destroyed before you throw it in the trash. This extra step can prevent thieves from picking through your garbage and finding what they want with little effort.

  4. Try to avoid leaving a paper trail and pay for things with cash whenever possible, especially if you do a lot of business travel, says Morrissette. You are signing your name and giving out information to people and companies that you are not familiar with. If your information is compromised it may be harder to track these places from where you are.

  5. Be skeptical of who is asking for your information. How many times have you given out your phone number without thinking twice about it? Before you hand over anything that identifies who you are to strangers ask them why they need the information and what they're going to do with it.
If you think it has happened to you
If you do suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft your first step would be to contact the police. From there, depending on the information that you know has been compromised, you should call any organizations that it pertains to. For example, if your credit card number has been stolen then you will have to call the bank and go through their procedures to clear yourself from any wrongful purchases.

“You will also have to contact your clients,” says Hubberftey. “It's a relationship issue and to be able to notify the clients that something has been compromised and you are taking steps and that they should as well.”

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